Interested in getting an allotment but not sure where to start? Here are some tips for beginners on how an allotment works and what you can do to prepare for owning one.
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Months of lockdowns and self-isolation have given us all a greater appreciation for the great outdoors, so it’s no wonder allotments are becoming increasingly popular. In some areas of the UK waiting lists for them have doubled over the pandemic.
Designed for individual, non-commercial gardening, an allotment is a piece of land divided up into separate sections where local people can build their own small garden.
These community gardens are dotted all over the country and provide a unique, affordable spot of greenery. They’re especially useful for people who don’t have access to an outdoor space with most people using it as a way to grow fruit and vegetables, as well as an outdoor space to spend time in.
Ashley Nwokorie was one of the lucky people who secured her allotment just before demand for them began to soar last year. “An allotment was the only affordable way for us to increase our growing space,” she says.
Ashley, who has spent a lot of time with her family at their allotment over the last year and a half, learnt almost everything she knows about allotments online. This is why she decided to start her own Instagram account, @allotmentcafe, as soon as she was able to secure her own. Since then, she’s built up nearly 10,000 followers through sharing her experience and advice for beginners who are interested in allotments.
“Allotments in the UK always see a huge resurgence during really difficult times, like during the second world war, and now, during the pandemic,” says Ashley. “With allotments, it doesn’t matter how much you earn, or what background you come from; anyone can join a waiting list for an allotment and it’s amazing to be able to access that green space.”
What can I do if I’m stuck on an allotment waiting list?
Many allotments are oversubscribed at the moment, but there is a solution if you’re feeling frustrated about being stuck on a waiting list. “You can petition your local council to make space for more allotments,” Ashley explains. “If six or more people get together to petition the council, they have to look into it to see if they can find more growing space in the area.”
You can find more information about petitions your local community might already have in place, or how to start your own, via the campaign website, Allot More Allotments.
In the meantime, here are things you can do to prepare for your allotment, whether you have just secured one or you’re hoping to at some point in the future.
Decide how you want to use your allotment
Although allotments are affordable – prices tend to sit somewhere between £50 and £100 per year – they do require some level of commitment, depending on what you plant.
“I try to split my allotment up so it’s manageable,” Ashley says, explaining that, with a busy full-time job and two kids, she wouldn’t have time to grow vegetables across her entire allotment, as they can be quite high-maintenance. “I like to use my allotment to relax and enjoy the view rather than it just being purely functional,” she explains.
Ask yourself how much time you’d want to spend at your allotment and be realistic about it. Don’t plant fruit and vegetables that need hours of tending to each day if you’re not going to be able to commit to it in the long term.
For a low-maintenance allotment, plant things like…
- Perennial vegetables (e.g. rhubarb, perpetual spinach, daubenton kale, asparagus)
- Low-maintenance fruits like strawberries and raspberries
Ashley spends about three hours a week at her allotment. “Don’t let time commitments become a barrier because they can be very low-maintenance,” she says. It’s also worth noting you will need to dedicate more time to your allotment in the summer than in the winter, which works out well as the warmer months are when you’ll naturally want to spend more time outside anyway.
Do your research to make sure your allotment functions well
You may have an idyllic vision of yourself planting and eating fruit and vegetables at your allotment, but in order to get the most out of it, you’ll need to put some planning in place. Spending a year on a waiting list might seem like a long time, but this is actually a good time to start thinking about how the changing seasons might affect your plants and what methods you can use to make sure they are as healthy as possible.
You could also use this time to put some money aside to dedicate to your allotment. The amount you want to save is dependent on what you want from your allotment, but take some time to research the prices of tools and seeds you might like to buy. You can also read up on the best time to buy seeds and plants, as Ashley explains that ‘bulk season’ is when certain seeds will be at their cheapest.
Ashley also recommends looking into Charles Dowding’s ‘No Dig Method’, which helps you minimise the time you spend digging up weeds.
While you’re waiting for your allotment, you can also curate your social media to find and follow people like Ashley, running their own allotments, and keeping track of what they do online. When you do eventually get your allotment, you should feel more equipped, not only with advice and tips but people who can help answer your questions.
Three helpful allotment accounts to follow on Instagram
Remember there will be failures and don’t give up
Taking on an allotment is an entirely new hobby for most people and Ashley says you shouldn’t expect to get everything right straight away. “There will be lots of failures – slugs will demolish your crops and plants will die but keep on trying,” she says. Even if you have spent time carefully planning for your allotment, you’ll inevitably come across issues you hadn’t anticipated. However, Ashley says this can actually be really useful.
“Take note of your failures and figure out what went wrong,” Ashley recommends. “Your allotment is an ongoing process and the notes you make for yourself about what you have got wrong and right will become a very tailored guide for you.”
If you decide you don’t want your allotment anymore, you can let go of it at any time, either taking what you’ve grown with you or leaving it for the next person. The good thing about the current waiting lists is that there will always be someone there tending to the green space, which is always a good thing.
You can read more gardening advice at Stylist.co.uk and you can also keep up with Ashley’s allotment on her Instagram page.
Images: Ashley Nwokorie
Ashley Nwokorie, allotment owner
Ashley runs her own allotment and shares her experience with nearly 10,000 followers on her Instagram, @allotmentcafe.